HC Deb 14 June 1956 vol 554 cc784-6

4.15 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneyeroft)

I beg to move, in page 17, line 14, to leave out "by the Registrar" and to insert "to the Court".

This Amendment is really consequential on earlier discussions. It envisages the possibility, now incorporated in the Bill, of application being made to the Court by one of the parties.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I beg to move, in page 17, line 29, at the end, to insert: (d) for enabling the Court to make an order for the payment by any party of costs in respect of proceedings in which he is guilty of unreasonable delay, or in respect of any improper, vexatious. prolix or unnecessary proceedings. This enables the Lord Chancellor to make rules empowering the Restrictive Practices Court to award costs in certain cases against dilatory parties. The position about costs is set out in the Schedule, and, normally, in this Court, it is not intended that costs should follow the event. I think that is right. We discussed this matter on other occasions. All these cases, in principle, will eventually be brought forward; and I think it would be quite wrong for large costs to be awarded for or against the Registrar. or for or against a party, when what is happening here is simply that certain arrangements are being examined to see whether or not they are against the public interest in accordance with the criteria which have been laid down by Parliament.

There is a special problem here, and this Amendment is limited to dealing with it. It arises where, say, in interlocutory proceedings, one party may be dilatory in producing documents or the like, and it might well be that the delay by that party could hold up the whole of the proceedings, with general damage to everybody else concerned. A suggestion that some power should be given to the Court to award costs against a party in circumstances of that kind was made during the Committee stage by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Sir L. Joynson-Hicks). We have given consideration to it, we think that the suggestion is well founded, and we have accordingly tabled this Amendment, which we commend to the House.

Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

I understand that what the President is trying to do here is that, whereas there is to be no set or conventional rule of court about costs in this matter, which I understand is the President's interpretation of the provisions of the Bill, he nevertheless wants to be certain that any party who unduly delays the proceedings or holds up the proceedings should have a warning of penal consequences, and the penal consequence would be the question of costs. The measure of the costs would be the measure of the delay, and I understand that that is the simple effect of this provision.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

May I put one point to the right hon. Gentleman? Are the costs in question only the costs of the Registrar, or may any other parties who may have been put to unnecessary expense also claim their costs against the dilatory party?

Sir Lancelot Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I should like to express my appreciation to my right hon. Friend for having met the point which I raised, and, as I must confess, having met it much more successfully than is done by my own attempt, which appears later on the Notice Paper in an Amendment to the Schedule. The point here is an important one. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that we do not want to mulct any party to the proceedings automatically with the costs of all the parties to the proceedings, which might be a substantial amount, but there might nevertheless be times when the ability of the Court to award costs would be of real value.

If there are, as is likely, proceedings to which there are thirty parties because they are all parties to the agreement, and those proceedings in which all the parties are represented are deliberately or wilfully or carelessly held up by one party, so that owing to the dilatoriness of that one party the other twenty-nine are put to unnecessary expense, the only thing which the Court can do under the Bill as it stands is to commit that party for contempt of court, and imprison him.

We would all agree that that is not the way we want to begin the history of this Court. Therefore, we were keen to provide some alternative sanction on the part of the judge to enable him to maintain proper discipline amongst the parties without having to resort to drastic steps. I believe that this Amendment achieves that purpose. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I support him.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

May I put another point, by leave of the House? I apprehend that this provision will not come under the ordinary rules of the court about costs. Would the President bear in mind that it is not necessarily a question of party and party costs, but might be a question of solicitor and own client costs, which may be an important point?

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

May I put the position, as I understand it, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will confirm it? As I interpret the matter, unless there are special circumstances as indicated in this Amendment, there will be no order as to costs, and each party before the Court will pay his own costs. If there are these special circumstances, the Court will decide whether there are to be solicitor and client costs or party and party costs.

My other point is that I anticipate that the proceedings before the High Court on matters covered by the Bill will follow the ordinary rule about costs going with the event. Or is it proposed that there will be some special arrangement for the proceedings under this Bill in the High Court?

Amendment agreed to.